Saturday, December 7, 2013

Yankees Look Ahead - Infield

2013 was a nightmare year for the Yankees infield.  We came into Spring Training expecting a solid lineup of Mark Tiexiera (1B), Robinson Cano (2B), Derek Jeter (SS) and Kevin Youkilis holding down the hot corner (at least until A-Rod came back from hip surgery.)  It turned out to be something different altogether.

Tiexiera injured himself in the World Baseball Classic before the regular season opened, came back on May 31, only to see a reinjury end his season after 15 lackluster games. Jeter never really recovered from his 2012 post season ankle injury and only got into 17 games over the second half of the season.  Youkilis started off well enough in April, went down in May, was back for the first half of June (but didn't produce) and was gone. Alex Rodriquez came back in August and played out the season at about replacement level* on the field and as a reality TV All-Star off.  The only stable presence in the Yankee infield was Robinson Cano who put up another outstanding set of numbers.

Beyond that? Flotsam and jetsam. 10 different players made a showing at first, 8 at short, and 11 at third.  I'm not even going to run it down by player.  It was like an America's Got Talent audition.  Whole lotta nuthin.  In fairness, Lyle Overbay filled in adequately and utility men Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix did what they could.  But, apart from Cano, it was a wasteland.

So, whither 2014?  Well, as you likely know, Cano is gone after signing at 10 year, $240M contract with Seattle. You might think I'd be upset, but I am all "Good riddance and don't let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya."  That isn't to say I wouldn't like to have him remain a Yankee, but his terms were too steep.  The contract Seattle gave him is crazy and will, in my estimation, compare favorably with contracts given to A-Rod, Albert Pujols, and Josh Hamilton. If you know what I mean, and I think you do.

The 7 years, $175M the Yankees offered was still a year too long for my comfort level, so I am somewhat relieved that he is gone.  Honestly, he wasn't a franchise player like a Derek Jeter or a Dustin Pedroia.  He was a great player and has been injury free his entire career.  But, he lacks the charisma and fire that those others bring.  I can forgive a lack of charisma, but Cano drove me nuts when he wouldn't run out groundballs or would play the field half-heartedly. He is a more talented player (by far) than Pedroia, but I would take Pedroia every day and twice on Sunday.

So, where do we go?  Well, with any luck Tiexiera and Jeter will be back and will produce like they did in 2012. I am ambivalent about Jeter in the field. He has some flashy moves, but lacks the range of a younger man. But, I will be glad to have his bat and his leadership back. Having signed Brendan Ryan was a good move, as his defensive skills at short make up for his lack of offensive punch.

If A-Rod suspension is overturned or stayed, I would expect to see him at third. If it isn't, I'd like the Yankees to give Eduardo Nunez a crack at it. Nuney is seen as a poor fielder and, certainly, the stats bear it out.  But, my observation is that his fielding miscues come in bunches. This indicates to me that he struggles to shake off errors and tends to lose confidence in himself easily.  After an error, you can pretty much see his fearful approach to subsequent defensive chances. He did get some reps at third last year and, while he did get handcuffed a few times, he looked better playing there than he did at short.  Mark Reynolds is another option for third, although he is limited as a defender, and strikes out way too much at the plate.

So, coming full circle, what about second?  Well, the Yankees have signed Kelly Johnson, who is a decent defender and has enough pop in his bat to benefit from the short right porch in Yankee Stadium. There is talk in the blogs about going after Omar Infante, but I don't see him as enough of an upgrade over Johnson to pursue him.

For the utility men, obviously Brendan Ryan is there.  Myself, I would have kept Jayson Nix, but the Yankees non-tendered him. It wouldn't surprise me, if he doesn't catch on somewhere else, they bring him back to Spring Training on a minor league contract and, if/when he makes the major league roster, give him a salary less than he would have gotten in arbitration.

Up Next: The outfield and DH

* A-Rod did provide one of my favorite moments of the 2013 season when he took Ryan Dempster deep after Dempster threw at him.  Don't get me wrong, I'll be glad to see the last of A-Rod, but it was a bush league move on Dempster's part.  And the situation was made worse by piss-poor umpiring when Dempster got to stay in the game after the HBP, but Joe Girardi got bounced for arguing about it. But, the circus was continued, when MLB Comissioner Selig gave Dempster a suspension short enough that he didn't even miss a start.

What I am watching:  A-Rod showing up Dempster.

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